The noun customer is clear to all of us.

customer - *a person or an organization that buys something from a shop/store or business* - OALD
customer - *someone who buys goods or services from a business.* -MW
customer - *a person who buys - Collins

And there are many more dictionaries. Note that I'm talking about the first meaning and not the other which is referred to dealing as in A cool customer.

Now the context

The Bishop mall has a large number of footfalls everyday. However, not all of them buy. Many simply enquire about the product and go away. I could use the word 'footfall' because I'm referring to the masses. But I'm talking about one person and 'he's a footfall, not a customer' does not look correct.

My question is, what are they called? They did not buy anything. Are they merely referred to enthusiasts?

In my day-to-day language, any person who enters into the shop is a customer. As being a manager, I'd ask my salesperson, "Go, attend the customer!"

This question is not nitpicking, but there has been an actual situation like this. While discussing our friend's shop's business, I got stuck while describing that person 'X' is not a customer (won't buy anything) he's just __________.

[I know the word 'window-shopper' but it won't fit here. The person is not staring at store's windows but he actually enters, enquires, might show some interest and then go away!]

Visitors is another word that I thought of but it's very casual. It does not fulfill the qualities of customer of being enthusiastic, curious or throwing some enquiry.

Is there any term for a person who does not buy anything?

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    We sell gym memberships where I work, and the industry standard is to call non-members who might become members prospects. As in prospective member/customer Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 2:12
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    Window Shopper isn't someone that looks at a window, it is someone that goes into stores and just looks around. It's not a literal term Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 16:39
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    Who is listening to this description? If you call "prospective buyers" or "visitors" something as cold as "prospects" or "opportunities" they'll likely walk away because they want to be seen as more than just a wallet to be plundered. If the audience is supervisors & business managers, then "potential customers/buyers" is ok. To employees, everybody should be a "customer" whether or not they buy something to avoid negative reviews about the service. An informal/dismissive term is "looky-loo." A neutral option is to say they're "just browsing/looking." Depends who you're talking to.
    – mc01
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 18:09
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    "The noun customer is clear to all of us" -- not always in practical usage. In a large store, if a voice comes over the PA saying, "customer announcement", or "we request that customers...", it doesn't mean that the announcement doesn't apply to people who aren't buying anything. The dictionary can state that this is incorrect usage if it likes, but it's common and intelligible to native speakers, and wouldn't normally be questioned. So by all means decline to use "customers" yourself to include non-purchasers, but sometimes you must understand "customers" to include them. Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 10:40
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    I don't see how you could tell that some random person in your store is not a customer. Perhaps you recognize them as having recently visited the store without making a purchase, but I don't see how you could say they have never purchased anything in your store. Are you always present when the store is open? They might have purchased something while you were not there, or while you were there but were too busy to notice, or from another location of your store. Plus referring to them as not a customer, infers that they be treated differently than a customer. Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 1:00

11 Answers 11


In agreement with talrnu’s comment, I think “window shopper” is in fact appropriate here. In usage (which might be better represented on Urban Dictionary and Yahoo Answers), this term is commonly employed to refer to people who walk around both inside and outside of shops, and is used to differentiate such people from those who have more of an inclination to make a purchase.

From Urban Dictionary:

  1. Someone who looks at stuff they can’t buy.

  2. When one visits a store or mall to admire goods rather than to purchase them.

From Yahoo Answers:

It implies [. . .] someone who is not serious (a shopper who has no real intention of buying [. . .])

“Browser” does not sound right to my ear as it seems like an awkward nounification. Most people will think of something they use to view websites. I have not heard the word used this way. It would probably require explanation, which would defeat the purpose of having a single word for it.

That said, I have heard people say that they are “just browsing” to indicate that they are not actively pursuing a purchase at that moment. For your case, I could certainly see someone saying “he’s just browsing.” As far as saying “he’s not a customer”, you have another problem.

Anyone visiting the store is, potentially speaking, a customer. so it’s not ideal to say “he’s not a customer” unless you are pointing to an employee, security guard, pomeranian, etc. You might be clearer if you qualify the word “customer” before you establish this comparison, for example: “he’s not a serious customer, he’s _____________.”

Lastly, another term I know for such a person is to describe them as a looky-loo.


(also lookie-loo)

1.1 A person who seems interested in making a purchase, but whose actual intention is only to browse:

a treat for all the North Shore’s looky-loos: the popular Spring Designer Kitchen Tour

A good business broker will separate the real buyers from the looky-loos, bring in more qualified prospects, and usually can garner a better price for the business.

Source: Definition of looky-loo in Oxford Dictionaries

  • I had actually upvoted your answer and was giving some additional opinion (namely that I thought the meaning of "shopper" merited inclusion in what I otherwise considered a good answer). Sorry you thought my comments off topic and unrelated.
    – Floris
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 20:51
  • Accepted for the looky-loo. fits exactly what I mean. They portray that they are customers but finally walk off with no purchase.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 3:38
  • +1 & spot-on. I'm at a loss as to why so many dictionary definitions include the word windows in their definitions, when the term is more widely applied than that.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 9:17
  • @J.R. I'd assume it's because of the etymology and history, and because established idioms and meanings are extremely difficult to expunge from a language (e.g. SE's inbox icon is literally a picture of a box which used to sit on desks, for receiving incoming mail). Remember that windows used to be rare and expensive. "Window shopping" originated as a way of advertising; big windows made it easy to take a peek at the wares, without wasting the shopkeeper's time or getting turned away for not buying. Informative: www2.iath.virginia.edu/mhc/Archive/On-line-pubs/2001/… Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 13:44

Be careful with your

person 'X' is not a customer (won't buy anything) he's just (Y)

statement. Even window shoppers are potential customers, which is the word I would use. Just because someone has not purchased something does not mean that they won't and treating them as such is usually enough to turn a potential customer away.

  • That's not what I mean. It may happen that they never come back. They are just visitors, footfall or the like. Prospects and potential're almost same if you consider. Every person can be converted into customer and here, I'm not considering them potential at all. They're just visitors, window shoppers/enthusiastic about product. I already mentioned this. Every customer is a potential customer and thus every person who comes in the shop is a potential customer. But this is good term for the 'sales training manual' not here. But no downvote as this is due to misunderstanding.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 10:56
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    @MaulikV In that case, just call them window shoppers. The term is not so literal that the customer has to actually be looking through a window in order to qualify. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 14:16
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    I see. If it's not that literal, it can be a good choice
    – Maulik V
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 16:12

Window-shopper doesn't fit, but shopper does. They are merely visiting shops, not necessarily buying (at least, not in a specified shop).

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  • 6
    Many times I've heard window shopper when referring to a shopper who doesn't buy anything, regardless of the involvement of windows (i.e. it even sounds right when the shopper visits a store that doesn't have windows). Still, when I think of a mall like the one in the question's given context, I think of all of the people visiting it as shoppers without knowing anything about whether or not they've purchased anything.
    – talrnu
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 14:58
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    Also, consider announcements made on department store intercoms: they often begin with "Attention shoppers...", addressing people in the store who still haven't bought anything yet.
    – talrnu
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 15:00
  • Shopper: One who visits stores in search of merchandise or bargains.--thefreedictionary.com. Shoppers become customers when they make a purchase.
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 18:04
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    @MaulikV - Try macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/shopper. Pay particular attention to the words "or look at" in that definition. (Never make the mistake of assuming one dictionary's definition restricts a word's meaning unless you've consulted SEVERAL other dictionaries).
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 9:18

That person is not a customer, he's just a browser

browser: a person or thing that browses.
browse: to look leisurely at goods displayed for sale, as in a store.

  • +1 for the word leisurely this is quite close to the picture I have in my mind. :) Thanks
    – Maulik V
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 11:58
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    Not to be confused with Bowser, an evil character from Mario video games. Be sure not to give the impression that your shoppers are evil for not buying things :-)
    – Tyzoid
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 17:20
  • Or browser that we are viewing this site from. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 16:41
  • +1 if you are talking about the potential customer where you can be overheard by other customers, use customer. If you are in a staff meeting or writing a training manual, non-buyers are people who browse.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 19:53

They are called 'prospects'.

Potential customer is a description not a term. A 'prospect' is short for "a prospective buyer" - someone who may buy (from you) if you (the salesperson) induces him/her sufficiently.

I use this term commonly. And it is also common in various sales & marketing books and manuals.

  • It seems to me that the OP is attempting to describe people who are basically not worth inducing in any way because they have no intention of making a purchase. Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 21:02
  • @TylerJamesYoung Exactly and is quite common in India. As we have paid audience, these are opposite to them. They just kill the time by entering, inquiring, showing fake interest and finally walking off
    – Maulik V
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 2:31

I would recommend the word patron. This is someone who visits an establishment, and may or not pay for a service at that time, but still visits the location. It still applies to people who do make purchases, but keep in mind this is considered a polite term. I suggested this mainly because in a lot of stores I visit, there is some message such as "Thank You For Your Patronage!".

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    A patron provides support to an establishment. If you enter a store and leave without purchasing anything, you're providing no support whatsoever to that store.
    – talrnu
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 14:54
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    +1 for Patron. Even if you enter/leave without purchasing anything, you may provide support for the store via word of mouth, you may be considering a purchase at a later date, or the store may benefit from your presence (if you are a celebrity, or simply from the appearance of being crowded/busy/cool).
    – GWLlosa
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 19:03
  • Definitions for “patron” say things like “a person who gives financial [. . .] support to a[n. . .] organization” and “a customer [. . .] of a store”. If anything, this word could be contrasted with “customer” in the opposite direction, such as “many customers enter the shop, but only a few patronize our establishment”. Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 20:59
  • Those who make use of charities, where service or support is given without any fee being required, are also referred to as patrons.
    – awj
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 14:06
  • I don't think the classical definition of an Artists Patron is the same as the general commerce related meaning. If I were to enter a restaurant, have a glass of water while looking over the menu and then decide I'll eat elsewhere, i'm still a patron. Or a guest, in this sense the terms are fairly equivalent. I think patron fits establishments with a minimum of hospitality services. Otherwise, I would go with patron.
    – DoverAudio
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 14:38

Several of the other words are good options, but if you want a word that in the general sense describes people who have entered the mall, but haven't yet purchased anything the word you're looking for is:


"There were thirteen visitors to the shop this morning, but only two bought anything."

  • If I don't get any specific word what I'm looking for, I'd certainly used this word. And, I already mentioned this in my question. The only thing that prevents me to go agree fully is visitors not necessarily have the characters of customers.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 15:34
  • Visitors are people who "visit" places, which can include countries, towns, seaside resorts, museums, galleries, castles etc. You can also have visitors who visit patients in hospitals. But people who go into supermarkets, bars, cafès, cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls/centres are NOT visitors.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 2:39
  • @mari-lou surely someone who goes into a shopping mall is visiting it, and so can be considered by the shopping mall to be a person on a visit to that mall?
    – Racheet
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 11:24
  • This about it by analogy to domestic houses. "We had three visitors over at my parents house whilst I was staying" is basically the same form as "We had 3 visitors to the shopping centre whilst I was on shift".
    – Racheet
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 11:27
  • You can them whatever you like, but normally people who go into a supermarket, coffee shop, boutique etc. have as their main purpose to purchase something, therefore shoppers, or customers is the most appropriate term. Visitors on the other hand have as their main purpose to see someone (a friend, a relative, someone sick) or view (sightsee) a town, a city etc.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 11:43

True, the dictionaries do equate customer with someone who buys something. But, while I think that they believe what they've said is what they mean, what they actually mean may not be what they said.

Sorry, couldn't resist that.

From the perspective of the mall of course, everyone who visits (other than those working there) are customers - 'buying' does not necessarily mean parting with cold hard cash. They have 'brought' the concept of visiting the mall.

I hope that we can all agree that a broader definition would include the user of services that are provided - the display provision of goods for sale is a service; if you consume that service then you are a customer.

The American Marketing Association takes it further, their definition runs:

The actual or prospective purchaser of products or services.

Or, from the Marketing Association of Australia and New Zealand (my bold):

Any recipient of a product (goods and services); anyone who is affected by what one produces. A customer can be external or outside the organisation or they can be internal to the organisation. Person or organisation actually making the purchasing decision not necessarily the 'consumer' or 'user'. The receiver of an output of a process, either internal or external to the organisation. Can be a person, department, company, etc.

Still not convinced? Back to the OED then:

1592 R. Greene Thirde Pt. Conny-catching sig. E3, His shop very well frequented with Customers. 1725 D. Defoe Compl. Eng. Tradesman I. viii. 102 Parcels fit to fill their shops, and invite their customers.

Each of those examples seem to fit the case that is being discussed here


The mall has a large number of footfalls everyday. However, not all of them buy.

What is their intention? If I go to a mall/store with the intention of buying something I consider myself a customer. Maybe I don't buy anything today - I like that $1000 digital camera but I have to talk to the credit card first.

If I go with Wifey for the purpose of carrying the bags I am not a customer1. If I am there to help make a decision then I am. If Wifey is late and I have an hour to kill I will consider myself a browser (or window shopper) in the tool aisle.

  1. Note to managers everywhere: Get some benches. Less complaining from the bag-carriers and thus more sales from the real customer.
  • 2
    I disagree. Question asks what to call people in a store who do not buy. If I am in a store with the intention of buying, I consider myself a customer wether I actually buy something or not.
    – paul
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 5:10
  • Paul: I agree with your comment – and your answer. I'd like to think of myself a customer when I walk in the door, not when I whip out my credit card.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 9:23
  • Just as importantly, if you treat them like they aren’t customers, they won’t be.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 2:15

Sometimes potential customer, but the reason I feel customer is valid is there is an ongoing relationship. They will come back again some other time and buy something. Or rather, their relation to you is one where they buy and you sell. Even if they don't buy, their ability to do so is their defining quality when you talk about them.

In a business context the term client is often preferred. This would be incorrect in the case of a store, though (if you said "client" to refer to someone shopping for shoes, I would assume you're about to buy 300 shoes wholesale and sell to someone else, for instance). It's slightly synonymous but it's understood you try to serve a client before you know whether they will buy, whereas, to me, customer does have the implication that they are much closer to making a purchase.


Both etymologically and de facto, customers are customers whether or not they buy; shop personnel habitually refer to all members of the public who enter the store as customer.

Asked if you need any help, you might say:

No thanks, I am just browsing.


I'm just having a look round, thanks.

But I for one would never say

I'm just window shopping.

when I am already inside the store (perhaps a profusion of glass displays inside the store might tempt me to say this). This is not quite the same as them (later on, amongst themselves) referring to me, a non-purchasing customer, as a window shopper.

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